Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of videos about the Downtown Streets Team. Look for videos with some of the participants discussing their current obstacles later this week.
If you’ve spent a morning in downtown San Rafael at some point in the last two months, then you’ve probably noticed groups of people in yellow shirts cleaning up the streets.
Those workers are mostly homeless community members who are part of the Downtown Streets Team, which was launched in San Rafael on July 15 and had its first team hit the downtown San Rafael streets on Aug. 1.
The team is usually out cleaning the streets — picking up trash, sweeping the sidewalks and doing other odds and ends — from 8 a.m. until noon on weekdays. They are paid with gift cards (roughly $100 a week) that can be used for expenses such as phone bills, food or housing.
The participants are then free to use the afternoon as they wish — and many have taken advantage of the variety of services offered by program’s employment specialist and case manager, Jaclyn Epter. In her first six weeks on the job (she started Aug. 12), she has helped six unemployed people with unstable housing get full-time jobs.
The auxiliary services Epter helps with can range from leading a job-search skills class to helping program participants with a variety of errands, such as driving someone and their dog to the Marine Humane Society so the dog can get the vaccinations it needs.
Downtown Streets Team Project Manager Andrew Hening, said the program helps dispel stereotypes about the homeless. He said that many people may perceive someone on the street as lazy or unemployable; the Downtown Streets Team proves many of them are excited about having opportunities to get involved in something. See him speak in the above video.
Hening, who is 27, said the most challenging part of his position is interacting with people living on the streets who are the same age as him. “We’ve made a lot of progress in getting some homeless youth into the program,” he said, adding that they’ve already helped two of them graduate into employment as they were placed at jobs at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito.
Hening said that since the program started in San Rafael, they’ve been doing extensive outreach on the streets to get to know the various social groups in town and reach each small community.
Epter said they are finding that people are “really caught up in their past,” but working on the team and sharing their stories about homelessness helps them feel empowered. See her speak in the above video.
While the program is made for 12 people, it currently includes 14 because a few participate in the program part time.
Part of a Multifaceted Approach to Homelessness
In February, the San Rafael City Council approved the $272,000 one-year program, an extension of the Palo Alto-based nonprofit Downtown Streets Team.
Downtown Streets Team currently has successful programs in Palo Alto and San Jose.
The Marin Community Foundation has contributed $50,000 for the program. Marin General Hospital will contribute $100,000 and Kaiser will contribute $50,000 cash and $50,000 in-kind services to the project. Finally, Marin County officials have agreed to donate $25,000 toward the effort and county staff will ask the Board of Supervisors to fund an additional $25,000.
The city will spend $47,000 on the project from its “Homeless Initiative” funds.
The project is one of the multiple long-term and short-term recommendations city staff brought to the in October 2012 after a City Council subcommittee and stakeholders group developed the ideas, which address issues including mental health, serial inebriates, crime, affordable housing and public education.